When you head to the liquor store this Labor Day weekend for beer for an end-of-summer bash, the choices of bottles, cans, kegs, and growlers you'll have will most likely be much greater than they were just a few years ago. Beer is changing, and there's a growing need for those in the beer industry to be increasingly knowledgable about all aspects of beer and a growing expectation from beer drinkers that those selling and serving their beer will know what their talking about. Beer professionals are turning to the certification known as Cicerone to help them gain that knowledge.

There are three levels to this certifiation. The first level is Certified Beer Server, someone who has achieved competent knowledge in areas like beer storage and service as well as beer styles, tasting, and brewing. A Certified Cicerone achieves detailed knowledge of the same areas as the Certified Beer Server as well as additional areas like beer and food pairing principals. Finally, a Master Cicerone demonstrates encyclopedic knowledge of all issues related to brewing, beer and beer service.

My friends Tara Nurin and Gary Rosen are Certified Beer Servers, and I talked with them about the Cicerone program and its benefits. Tara is a nationally published beer writer, the founder of Beer for Babes, and a beer educator. Gary works as the Craft Beer Specialist at Shore Point Distributing Co. in Freehold, N.J.

As beer professionals, both Tara and Gary saw the certification program as a way to become more knowledgeable in their professions and dedicated to their craft. Tara sees her certification as proof of her interest in furthering her knowledge of beer. Gary sees the education gained during his certification process as something he can pass on to his accounts’ staff so they can handle beer correctly, service their drought lines properly, and even help pair beer with food.

Their certifications don’t benefit them only professionally, though. They are both passionate about beer and say that the knowledge they gained on their way to certification helps them enjoy drinking beer.

“I can enhance my experience by drinking a particular beer at a specific temperature and in the proper glassware to get the fullest aroma and flavor experience that the brewer intended,” says Gary.

Tara says, “My certification helps me better understand the process and art that goes into making beer so I can appreciate its nuances and ambitions.”

Art is a word that both Gary and Tara used when telling me about their certifications. With the sales of craft beer increasing even though the overall sales of beer have decreased a bit in recent years, beer is becoming more complicated. As Gary put it, “There’s so much more to beer than consuming as much flavorless liquid as you can while throwing ping pong balls into red cups.” Americans are choosing more complicated beers that have been brewed by craft brewers that are putting a lot of time, energy, knowledge, creativity and passion into their art. With the more complicated brews, beer professionals need different knowledge than they did 10 years ago.

“I look at beer like art,” says Tara. “You can admire a pretty picture without knowing anything about it, but once you study the life and the perspective of the artist, the context in which the art was created, the interplay of the materials/colors/light/technique used, all of those pieces of information culminate in a magnificence of experience that could never be attained by a passive observer.”

Both Tara and Gary think even beer hobbyists would benefit from the basic certification. The knowledge gained can enhance their drinking experience by choosing proper glassware and serving temperatures. They can learn how to better pair beer with food. They can even “impress a date with their beer knowledge and prowess.”

Tara has no immediate plans to move on to the next certification level (but doesn’t rule out doing so in the future.) Gary, however, is currently studying to become a Certified Cicerone®.

As someone who appreciates knowledgable servers, I’m glad that the number of professionals learning about beer is increasing. If this certification program keeps just one server from answering me with “Um, I have no idea, why don’t I bring you a taste,” when I inquire about a beer on a menu, I’ll really appreciate it.

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